Wednesday, 6 January 2016

George Monbiot and He Who Must Not Be Named.

In one of his lengthy hand-wringing articles for the Guardian, George Monbiot argues that the problem of flooding in the UK is not caused by the usual suspect "global warming", but is the result of bad environmental policies.
‘Vast amounts of public money, running into billions, are spent every year on policies that make devastating floods inevitable," he writes. 

What amazes me is that he manages to write this whole article without once mentioning the source of those policies, the source of the money that is in his view being misspent, or the origin of the Common Agricultural Policy that he is criticizing - none other than the EU, alias Lord Voldemort, alias He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
      Deforestation, he says, is a major factor in flooding. Trees form a natural barrier against floods, their roots create paths down into the soil for rain to penetrate even at high altitude, while in the plains and valleys they soak up water from the soil. So why don't farmers plant trees? 
" There is an unbreakable rule laid down by the common agricultural policy. If you want to receive your single farm payment – by far the biggest component of farm subsidies – that land has to be free from what it calls "unwanted vegetation". Land covered by trees is not eligible. The subsidy rules have enforced the mass clearance of vegetation from the hills." And where does the Common Agricultural Policy come from?  Who makes those rules? Who offers farmers subsidies for letting land lie fallow  -  but only if it is not covered in trees? Who now pays land-clearing grants? The EU.
 Monbiot's complaint that nobody talks about the harmful impact of the CAP indicates that he is reading a rather limited cross-section of opinion, The websites and blogs I read are not reluctant to criticize it, funnily enough.
     Presumably the Guardian would sack him if he alluded to the EU, at any rate without salaaming and saying "Blessings be upon it forever!" 
     Mr Monbiot thinks that dredging rivers is a bad idea, and would involve "removing messy wildlife habitat".  In fact what dredging rivers usually involves is removing gravel and this used to be done for centuries in Cumbria when you could get the labour. It was done by hand by men with shovels and wheelbarrows. The gravel was used elsewhere on roads and pathways. People knew that if you didn't dredge the river it would overflow. This policy was followed in Victorian times, not because of the theories of engineers as Mr Monbiot thinks, but because the farmers and landowners who managed the local river boards knew that it worked in practice. 
        Monbiot writes as if interfering with rivers were something relatively recent. Not at all. In the eighteenth-century, when our canal network was largely built, a lot of water was taken out of British rivers and diverted elsewhere. The remaining rivers were greatly reduced in depth and speed of current, which was regarded by some people then as a calamity. Old watermills had to be abandoned because the water was too low and the current no longer sufficiently powerful. But perhaps it also helped to prevent flooding. The rivers flowing at a slower speed must have become more liable to blockage and silting up.
     Since we adopted the European Water Framework Directive in 2000, policy has not been decided by those local farmers or landowners. Instead, Brussels decreed that we must stop dredging rivers and leave them in ‘undisturbed natural conditions’ because this is better for wildlife. Does anyone notice a correlation with the onset of severe flooding in Wales and the North of England?
     I strongly suspect that Mr Monbiot is voting for the wrong party. He needs to leave the Greens and look elsewhere.

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